Change: Increase the Odds of Success

Planning on making changes? Many businesses have plans for the new year—new software; new workflow; new staff or new roles on a team; moving paper PO’s and/or timecards to electronic; and so on. You’ve probably also read the statistics about the failure rate of New Year’s goals or have your own stories about initiatives that failed. Well, you’re not alone, and there are some very good reasons, as well as some things you can do to increase the odds of success.

Apparently, we are wired to resist change! According to Britt Andreatta, PhD, ‘Several studies have shown that 50 to 70 percent of change initiatives fail.’ If she’s right, that’s a huge amount of lost time and money, not to mention the unintended consequences such as the quality of work and employee loyalty. Changes can be small, like a new phone system or quite extensive such as a new estimating program. And while we’re focused on the work changes, our teams have personal changes outside of work. They may have New Year’s goals of their own, welcoming a new child, getting married, to name a few.

Dr. Andreatta has identified five types of change:

  1. Strategic: redesigning how we deliver our services; targeting a new market.
  2. Structural: opening a new division; changes in management and/or leadership; remote work vs. in-office.
  3. Process: optimizing existing processes; moving server shares to SharePoint; adding/changing software.
  4. Talent: everything from hiring, supervising, training; changes to employee packages to attract talent.
  5. Cultural: shift in office culture; core values playing out and re-enforced; how staff engages with customers or vendors.

A very interesting nuance—a change is something you execute; a transition is our emotional response during a change. In his book Managing Transitions, Dr. William Bridges points out that leaders often focus on designing and executing a change without thinking about or preparing to mange the transition. No matter how well thought out your plan is, people can and will be resistant, be reluctant, and in some cases, will dig in their heels!

So what if, while planning the changes, we put the same amount of effort into thinking through the team members who will be impacted? We have a couple of clients who do this very well. They know their teams, how much communication needs to happen before a change, who will be most resistant, and who will want to help make the project successful. One of our East coast clients had to roll out MFA in order to renew their cyber insurance, something we had been discussing with them for a while, but they knew there would be much resistance. Now with the threat of non-renewal, they had a ‘bad guy’ (the insurance company) and a reason to band together. For the few that were digging in their heels, they put a few office people in their cars, sent them to the job sites, and had them setup the phones right there in the field; brilliant!

Another aspect to consider is how long the change will take. A legacy accounting change will be a 4 month transition. Changing a legacy phone system to Teams Voice is 2 weeks for management, then one day once the lines are ported!

No one likes change; really. So when it’s going to happen anyway, how much input, how much ‘say’ did the impacted team have in making the choice? Were they involved in the decision to make a change? The selection process? The planning process? All of these impact the level of cooperation and therefore the success of the change. Gone are the days when the owner walked in, announced the change and expected it to be done. People still grumbled and there were still resisters, but that’s ‘just the way it was.’ In the current workplace, our teams have additional motivations and different expectations. They want and need to be involved. No one is suggesting you need consensus or a committee, but if you want a successful change and you want the team to survive the transition, you’ll need some new leadership skills to get it done.

When you set the expectation and plan for the transition, knowing your people as well as you do, they’ll be better equipped to ride out the change. They’re not being difficult, it’s human nature. You can expect a variety of emotions during the project, from shock, fear, anxiety, depression, all the way to acceptance, curiosity, and hope.

Lastly, consider how many changes are going on at any one time. Even a minor change like moving to Teams Voice could be the ‘last straw’ if that’s also the time you’re bringing all your server data to the cloud.

There are some great resources to help navigate and manage the changes as you grow your business. Get educated and get going! – CMW